Q: When are you going to start asking harder questions and leveling harder criticism of Kragthorpe?
A: I think Kragthorpe has faced plenty of hard questions, he just hasn’t offered very detailed answers. It’s frustrating as a writer, just as it is for fans. I don’t expect this to change. At this point, if Kragthorpe blames the players, it’ll only anger fans more and create more problems with his players. If he blames himself, which he has, that gives fans little satisfaction. One thing I think he could do is free players up to speak a little more candidly, but that’s not going to happen.
In general, I think columnists are more measured in our criticism than fans, because our comments carry more weight. I’ve been critical of certain elements of Kragthorpe’s performance. The defensive performance. The off-the-field questions. I’ve questioned whether he’s having a problem getting through to his players.
Those are difficult questions. But I’ve also been more cautious than some fans would like. And here’s why. There are parts to this story that we don’t know — or know only partially. I get enough information to know this — just not enough yet to know completely what’s going on.
You can never forget that every piece of information you get can change the way you view things. I heard a story recently about a man on a bus. His kids are running all over the place and he’s doing nothing. Other riders are getting upset. There’s resentment. Then one goes back to confront the man and everything changes. He finds out the man’s wife has died. And everyone views the situation differently.
Let me give you a hypothetical. Just one. Let’s say a coach comes in and starts cracking down on positive drug tests with a group of players who are used to having a less-than-thorough eye turned toward the tests. Let’s say consequences start to come down. And let’s say that causes a rift between players and coaches.
Hypothetically speaking, if the result of that rift is losses and an unfocused team, where would the blame lie?
That’s just an example of the kind of thing that you can have to deal with when trying to sort out these issues.
The great frustration for me, and others who report on the team, is the curtain drawn around the program. There’s nothing coming from the inside — which isn’t unusual when times are hard. When teams are winning, everybody wants to talk.
As for Kragthorpe the coach, there are plenty of differences with his predecessor. If the players don’t respond to them as well, or feel less confidence in one staff than the other, the current staff bears some responsibility, but I don’t know how much fault.
Regardless, not getting to see more practice, it’s hard to say. Here’s an example of one of the differences.
Practice under Bobby Petrino was like one, long exam. Not only was there intense pressure to perform on every play, but those who were watching were under alert. When Petrino called an offensive play, he immediately turned to the back-up quarterbacks and started drilling — “Why did I call that play? Where should the ball go? Who should be open?”
Kragthorpe is more conventional. You run the play, then the next group comes up and does its reps. At least, that was my observation in the couple of practices I’ve seen, and more witnessed by others whom I talk to often, and in the spring game.
I’d say 90 percent of coaches in America resemble Kragthorpe more than Petrino. But if players are used to something else, it can make for a troublesome adjustment.
To conclude a long-winded answer, I want to criticize those things that must be criticized. I also don’t want to make blanket statements that criticize a coach or his staff for doing things that reasonably need to be done, even if the result is a team in turmoil.
And those answers, frustrating though this is, are still to be determined. The fact is, there will be plenty of time to level criticism. But to rush in when there may be facts you don’t have is to flirt with being irresponsible. We’ll keep asking the questions. They’re being asked in various ways. But it’s answers, not questions, that we’re all really after.
Q: A writer on a local web site has criticized you and Rick Bozich for not asking the tough questions of Tom Jurich, because you’re intimidated by him. When will Jurich have to start answering questions.
All I can say is that when U of L was getting beat by Syracuse, I didn’t see any other writers in Tom Jurich’s box asking any questions. I wouldn’t call it “easy,” per se, to ask an athletic director what he thinks of his coach’s performance when his team is suffering what was then the worst pointspread upset defeat in college football history. While the loss is going on, and while fans are pouring out of the stadium.
I didn’t talk to Jurich after the N.C. State win, and I wasn’t at the Utah loss. Still, I haven’t seen anyone else interview him on the subject, and from my understanding, the comments he gave me were going to stand — they were his position then and now. I suspect I’ll talk to Tom soon. But to answer the question, I’m not too moved by criticism about questioning Jurich, when it appears to me that I’m the only one locally to have done so.
Q: Can Kentucky beat LSU.
A: Yes, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Except for last season, UK has played LSU awfully well in recent years. And a look around college football has shown that everyone is susceptible to letdowns in the weeks before and after emotional games. But for UK to win, it would have to show a level of offensive execution that it hasn’t yet this season. I think UK has the ability to get to that level, but it sure hasn’t approached it yet this year.
One thing Florida did to LSU should be noted, and it reminded me a lot of Bobby Petrino’s approach. When Petrino played a great defense, like Virginia Tech’s in the Gator Bowl, one that had great defensive end, his first point of attack was to run straight up the middle, using as many quick-hitting plays as he could to break through the line and get past the strength of the defense as quickly as possible. The key for UK’s offense will be the same — the ability to run the ball up the middle. If the Wildcats can do that, they have a chance.